Spanakopita

For a couple of years now I have used the Spanakopita recipe in Gordon Ramsay’s World Kitchen book. It’s a great go-to recipe – the cream adds wonderful richness and a satisfying body to it.
World Kitchen is definitely a cookbook to have on your shelf. Covering ten key culinary traditions, it presents classical recipes that have come to define these cuisines, all infused with Ramsay’s exquisite taste and meticulous detail.

This past spring, I had decided to make one of my favorites – spanakopita. I had everything, it seemed – the phyllo, even the pine nuts. However, I did not have cream, nor did I have all of the required feta. But I did have a couple of tubs of Primeridge cream cheese, and so my decision was either to go with what I had, or slough off to the nearest grocery to purchase the necessary dairy. I decided to go with what I had, which was 1 tub of regular cream cheese, 1 tub of herb cream cheese, and one package of their very yummy feta cheese (which is new this year, and so far, a rare and prized production run.) I also had a container of my own yogourt as well.

Primeridge is a really special – and specialized – artisinal cheese manufacturer. Started in 2010, their operation covers a production cycle that starts with the grass fed hormone free cattle in their fields and ends with the finished cream cheese. It is now sold at numerous markets and stores in Southern Ontario. Cheesemaker Steacy den Haan’s excitement for Primeridge and her boundless energy are infectious. They always have something new bubbling away – but at the same time are very careful to stick to their core products, ensuring they are not growing too fast for their capacity.

While the Ramsay recipe is the starting point for my Spanakopita, I have changed it up over the couple of years since I have been making it:
 I half caramelize the onions first with a good pinch of salt, then once they are a little beyond translucent, I add in all of my washed and cut spinach or chard and chopped garlic on top of it, put the lid on, turn to lowest – without stirring – and leave for half an hour. This technique is somewhere between a sautee and a steam. In his, the spinach is steamed.
 I tend to use chard rather than spinach. Its more easily available and inevitably in much more generous proportions.
 I cut the phyllo pastry in half so that one sheet can lie flat in a 10×14 or so casserole.
 I use olive oil, not butter,  to brush on the phyllo layers
 The rest of the recipe is as is.
 In this particular version, with its cream cheese workaround, the feta cheese is not quite enough for the recipe, so it is augmented with the cream cheese.
 As I did not have the required cream, I used the remainder of the cream cheese, mixed with plain yogourt until it had a consistency of clotted cream. This became my cream substitute in the recipe.

The result was wonderful! I didn’t tell anyone that I had changed up the recipe – and they did not note anything different, beyond it tasting its usual delicious spanakopita self.

Here is the recipe in detail . The original Ramsay recipe ingredients from World Kitchen are in italics. My changes are in regular font.
The cooking instructions differ from his in a number of aspects: I’m presenting mine here.

Instructions

Ingredients

1 package of phyllo pastry at room temp
2 large onions
2 garlic cloves
2 bunches or 500 g spinach or chard
Salt – to taste
Basil, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, & pepper to taste
200g Primeridge feta – grated
2 eggs
300g Primeridge cream cheese: either plain or herb blend
50g (approximately) fresh yogourt
3 tbs pine nuts
300ml olive oil

Directions

Time: Plan on starting this at least 4 hours before serving. The actual hands on preparation and clean up is about 1 hour.

Begin even earlier thawing the phyllo, unopened. It must be at room temperature when you use it.

Cooking

  • Sautee onions in olive oil with a good pinch of salt. Begin on medium heat and reduce to lowest heat once they are translucent. Add in garlic. Simmer very gently for about 40 – 60 minutes

spanakopita (6)

  • Wash and finely cut chard & add to sauté once the onions are on their way to caramelizing. Make sure the washed chard is thoroughly spun out: you want to minimize the amount of liquid. DO NOT MIX it in! Leave it as a layer on top of the onions; cook covered on lowest heat for a further 20-30 minutes.
  • Add in basil, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, & pepper and cook for a few more minutes.
  • Take the chard off the heat and stir the onion, chard and herb mix together (this is when the onions/garlic and chard combine). Taste for herb balance – particularly the pepper and nutmeg. Taste for saltiness only after the cream cheese and feta have been added.
  • In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine eggs, 250g feta and cream cheesespanakopita (5)
  • In another bowl, thoroughly combine 200g plain cream cheese and 50ml yogourt (measurements are approximate). This is the whipped cream work around. The mixture should have the consistency of a clotted cream.
  • Combine the chard/spinach mix with the two dairy mixes.
  • Add in 3 tbs pine nuts, and do a final tasting for salt, pepper, herbs.

Assembling

  • Heat oven to 400F
  • Mise-en-place: A completely clean and dry surface, a large, shallow, casserole dish (10x14x3” approximately), a cup of olive oil, a brush, the vegetable mix with a serving spoon, the phyllo pastry (& maybe a glass of wine for the chef).spanakopita (2)
  • Open the phyllo package and cut the phyllo evenly in half along its width so that a cut sheet of phyllo fits easily into the casserole dish
  • Brush on a olive oil on the bottom of the pan. Lay down 7-10 layers of phyllo and brush each layer lightly with olive oil. Spoon on a couple of spoons of the filling. Add more layers of phyllo, brushed with oil, repeating the process until all the filling and all the phyllo have been used up. The top layer must be phyllo.

spanakopita (1)spanakopita (7)

Baking

Bake @ 400 for @ 40-60 minutes or until brown.
Let it cool down at least 20-40 minutes before cutting. It should be served warm.

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